Yesterday’s bungling bombers have placed a second attack on London in two weeks into a space which seems almost farcical. This slightly pathetic attempt has shaken people up for sure – but I half suspect that, at the moment, Al-Qaeda or equivalent could achieve same by running round popping inflated paper bags behind people’s backs. Or a ‘slamming shut heavy books’ attack squad perhaps. Equally though, London continues to just get on with stuff, and I wonder how this squares with The Independent’s ridiculous ‘City of fear’ headlines this morning.
I took some snaps on the way home last night which show the city in a slightly different light. One is seeing the city as playground: a street usually incredibly busy is suddenly deserted – some stay on the pavement, some walk right up the middle, taking snaps of people doing same, hopping over police lines – because you can. Deserted cities remain strangely attractive.
Another response is people out on the streets and chatting with each other, making sense of it all maybe, or just taking the opportunity to bunk off: “Sorry mate, can’t make it back to the office this afternoon. Everything’s just snarled up over here … What’s that? Oh the mobile network’s going down too … Hello? Hello? … Ahem. Pint of lager mate, cheers.”
The pubs were pretty rammed, as per last time – people taking advantage of the temporarily broken travel network for a crafty pint, or observing the media scrum at work. Even given today’s remarkably dramatic shooting incidents, it’s business, or sometimes lack of it, as usual.
In this context, the somewhat hysterical headlines don’t seem to match public behaviour, and certainly bears little relation to the stance Ken Livingstone’s taken. Which I share, for what it’s worth, and will interpret as “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.” It’ll take more than a few no-marks with rucksacks to create a ‘city of fear’. And incidentally, if it leads to fewer rucksacks on the streets, that’s no bad thing. They are ugly. Even Mandarina Duck ones.
However, today’s events lend a further strange mood to the city as the police tighten cordons around the ‘forensic goldmine’ discovered yesterday, this morning’s shooting and reports of various other police raids around London. We’re not quite where NYC is yet though and Blair and others are transmitting mollifying messages of ‘keep calm’ and ‘business as usual’, somewhat in keeping with the British sense of being mildly miffed about all things at all times and therefore not really getting too worked up about anything at all ever. I was in Manchester when the IRA bomb went off in 1996, which achieved little except providing an excuse for an extensive remodeling of the city centre. So I’ve never lived through anything like this, but Paris went through a series of attacks in 1995 and last time I checked it was still there. As Momus put it, the delights of the high density city go hand-in-hand with the dangers, swinging back and forth along some kind of homeostatic progress bar. Right now it feels like the balance has tended temporarily towards a ‘background radiation’ of ambient high stress but like Momus, I’m utterly convinced in the “utopian potential of big cities”. See you later, walking home past crowded pubs on busy streets …
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